The sequel to an instant classic in Double or Nothing’s Anarchy in the Arena, Wednesday’s Blood & Guts match always had a tough act to follow. However, I think the general response, both live and in nerdy bubbles such as this one, suggests that all involved can be pretty pleased with their night’s work. Blood & Guts 2 was a critical and commercial success, but admittedly fell slightly short of my personal expectations on first watch. I’ve since altered that viewpoint, but remain intrigued by the match’s stylistic contrasts and overlaps with the aforementioned Anarchy in the Arena.
Firstly, much of that is obviously conceptual, as Blood & Guts simply doesn’t allow for the almost dizzying chaos that was seen in Las Vegas. Instead, the WarGames format is far more structured, effectively a cycle of counteracting hot tags and heat segments. Combine that with twelve participants and three minute intervals, you have an inevitably bloated bout. Now, that’s not necessarily a negative and in fact, is increasingly the norm, for better or worse.
I mention this because this match’s length will absolutely be a factor in your personal enjoyment. At almost fifty minutes long, this is an epic, over double the length of its predecessor. That’s not dissimilar to last year’s Blood & Guts entry or for that matter, even NXT’s version of WarGames. I will say though that in terms of content, this was very different to the latter, far more grounded and gritty, even with the plethora of weaponry that emerged along the way.
That element allows the match to move at a steady pace, rather than exhausting the match’s appeal before the third act. Even still, I struggled with the length on my initial viewing. I’m a firm believer in the notion that ideally, ‘The Match Beyond’ is simply the conclusion, not an actual contest all to itself. With that being said, I think such a take is increasingly distant from the current audience’s preference, with the match’s modern incarnation simply requiring the bells and whistles that protect it from being overshadowed by the many surrounding stipulation matches.
Cliché as it sounds, wrestling has changed and so indeed, the match’s set pieces are probably more necessary than my nostalgia would like to admit. I will say that the further I separated this match from what I personally wanted it to be, the more I enjoyed it. In truth, the runtime is handled admirably, as the match flows neatly and remains engaging without ever getting too expansive to exhaust itself. Instead, it’s just good pro wrestling throughout, with great talent sprinkling some creativity throughout.
It does not have the palpable fire that Anarchy in the Arena had, unable to recreate the intensity that absolutely poured through the screen at Double or Nothing. Instead, Blood & Guts relies more on blunt violence, which isn’t an insult, as it absolutely fits the billing. Where Anarchy was wild and woolly, this was more deliberate, more vindictive. It still has that messiness, a necessary ingredient for a match such as this but it’s less frenetic, adjusting to the format and still creating an engrossing affair.
It is worth noting that for as impressive as this match ultimately was, it had some unfortunate limitations. Santana’s involvement was halted in just seconds, bringing a devastating end to his involvement in an angle that many months ago, he was honestly the heart and soul of. I’d love to see what he could have and would have added but sadly, it wasn’t meant to be. Hopefully, he’ll be back and better than ever before long. In addition, Eddie Kingston seemed genuinely hindered by a back injury, taking a certain pep from his step.
It’s still Eddie Kingston though, and with that comes some of the matches finest elements. Honestly, Kingston’s greatest strength at this juncture isn’t even his considerable skill-set, it’s his staggering popularity. I don’t mean that as a slight either, as he’s earned it, but Kingston is genuinely the promotion’s most popular protagonist. That’s powerful, and adds drama and gravity to moments that didn’t appear to be going exactly as planned. I’ll always wonder what Kingston could’ve offered as an earlier entrant but again, judging this for what it was rather than what I wanted it to be, he remained an absolute force of pro wrestling nature.
There are strong performances elsewhere too, with Jon Moxley really providing a spark at the perfect time. Moxley’s passion for violence shined bright here, his defining trait in the match, always upping the ante in a warzone already filled with brutality. By contrast, Claudio Castagnoli was far more conventional in his approach, powering around foes throughout, going the distance with an extraordinary effort. Castagnoli felt like one of the world’s best on Wednesday, a simply remarkable talent.
Wheeler Yuta impressed again also, consistently combining with Daniel Garcia for some of the match’s most eye-catching moments. Garcia wasn’t quite as striking here as he was in Anarchy in the Arena, but his intensity again remains impressive, truly at home in this setting. The same goes for 2.0, reiterating their comfort in the violence even if like Garcia, not quite reaching their personal highs at Double or Nothing. Has to be said though, everyone worked hard here and performed with a noticeable enthusiasm and inspiration, which was at home in front of this raucous audience.
Much like the length, this match’s finish will prove to be divisive. Personally, I’m torn. There’s something overly theatrical about it that to me at least, feels at odds with the match’s overall tone. After such extensive carnage, I’ll always find a shift like this slightly jarring, as the match suddenly ignores the majority of its participants. Instead, it became all about Kingston and Jericho, fighting to the top of the cage while the double ring was suddenly an afterthought. That frustrates me but again, I can’t help but feel like I’m in a dwindling minority here.
Phoney as it may feel to me, the match’s almost cinematic shift seems to have really struck a chord with AEW’s audience, as Sammy Guevara’s frightening fall shares the headlines with Castagnoli’s dramatic triumph. On rewatch, I appreciated the finishing stretch more, simplifying the match to its core ingredients: Kingston’s hatred for Jericho and his in-fighting with Bryan Danielson who was now represented by Castagnoli. Ideally, this match type serves as an actual blowoff but for AEW television’s product, you could argue that this was much more valuable.
To me at least, Blood & Guts 2 wasn’t perfect. I do think it was a smidge long and I’d love to see a version that moves the puzzle pieces around slightly but the more I ponder the match, the more I respect it. In many ways, this felt like a marriage of two ideologies. It was gruelling and physical in a throwback manner, mostly relying more on simple violence than awe-inspiring athleticism. Alongside that though, there was something more knowingly dramatic than the WarGames of yesterday. Something more showy in its storytelling and ultimately, something that sets up a range of possibilities.
This wasn’t exactly the Blood & Guts match that I wanted it to be, but it may have been the exact Blood & Guts match that it needed to be. Tasked with following a truly unique masterpiece, these two teams made the absolute most of this moment, producing a main event that left fans more than satisfied while still leaving enough questions to maintain a television hook. This wasn’t Anarchy in the Arena and it couldn’t be, but it was certainly a very worthy sequel.